Best places to go beachcombing in Suffolk

Beach treasures found on Kate Obsborne's beachcombing events

Beach treasures found on Kate Obsborne's beachcombing events - Credit: Kate Osborne

Kate Osborne is mad about beaches and beachcombing, which is why she founded not-for-profit Beach Bonkers, to share her passion and inspire people about Suffolk’s rare and fragile shingle beaches.

She does this by taking people beachcombing, taking the beach to them, and by giving talks to groups. Here she shows you something you'll find on most Suffolk beaches, hornwrack. It's incredibly fascinating, but unless you knew about it you'd probably dismiss it as a piece of rubbish.

Kate Osborne of Beach Bonkers

Kate Osborne of Beach Bonkers with some beach finds. - Credit: Simon Parker

Beachcombing with Kate

It looks like seaweed, and it’s boringly beige to boot. But take the time to pick it up, really really look at it and you might start to marvel at this animal.

Hold this papery fan with its projecting strands up to the light and you will see a texture that I’ve heard described as skin, fabric, lace - and my favourite - a plaster. This texture is created by tiny holes - about the size you’d get if you stuck a pin through a piece of paper. Each hole once contained a complete animal, living with thousands of others in a colony.

Hornwrack

Is it a plant? Seaweed? A bit of rubbish? It's hornwrack and it's an animal, believe it or not. - Credit: Kate Osborne

This bryozoan (literally 'moss animal') uses water pressure to open and close a “lid”. When the lid is closed, up pop tiny tentacles covered in hairs or cilia. Beating of the cilia creates a water current which drives food into its U-shaped gut - the mouth being next to the anus.

Within these colonies, some of the animals are specialised, some feed, some don’t, some reproduce. Some are the cleaners, opening and closing a sharp 'beak' quickly to prevent other creatures from growing on top of the mat. Remember we are talking about an animal that could sit on the sharp end of a pin. 

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There are nearly 5,000 to 6,000 species of bryozoan known today and over 15,000 fossil species have been recorded. Fossil bryozoans have given rise to a controversial, alternative theory of evolution called punctuated equilibrium - that is, that rather than evolving slowly, some animals remain the same for millions of years until a rapid burst of evolution results in a new, distinct species.

That something so tiny could be so marvellous! And if it’s super fresh, give it a smell too. It’s only happened to me twice but incredibly the clump will smell of lemons.

I was once asked by a beachcomb participant what would happen if we found something I didn’t recognise and couldn’t identify. I said how exciting it would be, encouraged by a previous mystery find. After bombarding social media with pictures, this had finally been identified as the egg ribbon of a sea lemon, a kind of sea slug.

Some time ago, I was walking south of Covehithe beach. I’d recently been inspired by some photos of sea-worn bricks full of holes and planted up with succulents. So I was lugging quite a load of sea-worn bricks, corners smoothed and rounded by the sea and the pounding of shingle stones.

Then I saw it. An enormous dead lobster on the beach. I took a large claw to add to my 'Tableful of Treasures' beachcombing display.

Lobster claw

The lobster has two quite different claws with specific purposes. This one's for crushing its food. - Credit: Kate Osborne

What I didn’t know until quite some time later was that lobsters have two very different claws. Their food is uncooked, and their claws are basically their cutlery. One claw is for crushing their prey - larger than the other with lots of nobbles that help to squash the food. This is the one I had taken. The other claw is similar to a pair of scissors, used for cutting their food.

The crushing claw hung in a plastic bag from our washing line for a good few months, visited by flies, getting very stinky, then gradually getting cleaner and cleaner, occasionally colliding with the washing and driving my partner mad.

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That claw is now a staple of my beachcombing display. It’s so large it stands out on the table and is always picked up by children who are fascinated by its size. It reminds me that there’s always more to learn, that what can seem a simple thing is so much more complex than we can ever imagine. 

Find out more about Beach Bonkers www.beachbonkers.org.uk or call Kate on 0751 255 7200

What you can expect to find on Suffolk's beaches

Seashells, fossils, sea glass and egg cases, crab shells, sharks teeth, 80 million year old sea sponges.

a woolly mammoth tooth found by Kate Osborne on Felixstowe beach in June 2016

One of Kate's most treasured finds, a woolly mammoth tooth found on Felixstowe beach in June 2016 - Credit: Kate Osborne

Where to go beachcombing in Suffolk

Southwold

Covehithe

Dunwich

Sizewell

Aldeburgh

Bawdsey 

Felixstowe

Be a responsible beachcomber

Suffolk's beaches are fragile and subject to constant erosion so humans need to be aware of the impact they can have. Always leave natural things as you find them . 

PLEASE BEACHCOMB SUSTAINABLY. Take away as much rubbish and sea glass/pottery as you like but everything else belongs on the beach. Our shingle beaches are a complex & fragile habitat - the plants & animals that live there need that driftwood, shell or stone far more than your bathroom shelf. Thank you!


Please remember that for many people, the Suffolk coast is their home and small coastal communities can struggle to cope with large numbers of people visiting the beach, especially in places where there are no car parks and public toilets. Please try to avoid busy times, park only in designated places and do not leave rubbish. Thank you!

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